Titles Or Excellence?

FIDE’s recent announcement about the introduction of new titles brought back memories about enquiries I’ve had for lessons in which the stated goal was to ‘get a FIDE title’. I guess those people will be happy that their goal has been placed within easier reach but I wonder whether it is aimed at benefiting chess or just making money by selling certificates.

Martial arts have had this debate for many years with many of them rejecting a belt system because it might attract students for the wrong reasons. Belts are certainly no guarantee of excellence, it all depends on the standards that are required. And if tests come at a cost there must be a temptation to lower standards in order to increase revenue.

So should chess players pursue these titles or not?

My own pursuit of the International Grandmaster title was because I wanted to continue chess as a career and Grandmasters were generally better placed to make a living out of chess. It played a role as a marker for my development as a player, but there were other ways of measuring this. It certainly didn’t mean much in terms of showing off at cocktail parties.

There might be a case for getting one in order to improve one’s CV, potential employers can be impressed by external pursuits such as chess as long as core skills for doing the job concerned are in place. Of course deeper enquiries might reveal that there’s not much substance to the title concerned so pretending it’s more than it is could rebound.

They could also help as a boost to self confidence, a marker of achievement for those who don’t naturally have a high opinion of themselves. The ECF introduced it’s own master points system some time back and it’s served as an incentive for a number of players I know. But the Master Points System seems rather more tasteful in that it avoids using terms such as ‘Grand Master’ and ‘International Master’. These seem too easy to confuse with the real titles and the confusion could lead to a devaluation. I’ve heard of players calling themselves ‘Grand Masters’ without even having gained any sort of title, and marketing coaching services on the back of this.

At the end of the day I guess it’s down to the individual as whether they want to pursue these things and fork out their hard earned cash. But remember that it has little to do with the pursuit of real excellence and playing better chess. That’s down to the board, the pieces and lots of practice.

Nigel Davies

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in Southport in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days Nigel teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 15 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game. Besides teaching chess, Nigel is a registered tai chi and qigong instructor and runs several weekly classes.